Napa company offers customized music classes online

  • Founders of ArtistWorks David Butler and his wife Patricia work from their studio where they broadcast online music instruction school with some of the country's most famed and acclaimed musicians in Napa on Friday, October 11, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

A music student's dream of learning from the best is usually reserved for those who are fortunate and talented enough to attend one of a handful of America's top music schools.

But it doesn't come cheap. Schools like the Berklee College of Music, Julliard or the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami are for serious music career-oriented students and cost tens of thousands of dollars in tuition.

Sure, you can go on YouTube and find a competent drummer teaching the basics of Elvin Jones' polyrhythmic style or a Jimmy Page devotee demonstrating one of the guitar legend's favorite pentatonic licks. These, however, usually fall short of ideal music instruction, and an aspiring musician can quickly become lost in a YouTube education maze that lacks structure and focus.

That's the void Napa-based online music school ArtistWorks hopes to fill. Co-founded by a former AOL executive, ArtistWorks has collected a faculty of acclaimed musicians, including Grammy winning artists such as legendary British guitarist Martin Taylor or jazz bassist John Patitucci.

For less than you would pay for a single music lesson at a local music store, ArtistWorks offers a month's worth of online instruction with such talents as internationally renowned classical guitarist Jason Vieaux or jazz drumming legend Billy Cobham, who once played with Horace Silver, George Benson and Miles Davis.

A year-long membership will cost you $240, or $20 a month.

"When I tell people they don't believe that you can have access to this caliber of teacher for that price," said David Butler, who co-founded ArtistWorks with his wife Patricia in 2008.

With 24 different "schools" and about 7,000 online students, ArtistWorks is part of a growing trend in e-learning, a phenomenon that extends from the vastness of YouTube servers to countless online music instruction sites that bring lessons to anyone with a credit card or PayPal.

But more than just an online bank of streaming music instruction, ArtistWorks offers one-on-one video exchanges between students and instructors. Students are able to upload videos of themselves playing their instrument. The teacher can in turn respond, on video, with personalized instructions for the student.

The school also offers a virtual campus environment that allows students to interact with each other, pose questions and comment about their lessons.

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